FBI Director James Comey Publishes Op-Ed on Apple/Encryption Case

James Comey, in a brief op-ed published last night by Lawfare:

The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI.

It is very difficult to take Comey’s opening sentence seriously. Everyone — on both sides of the issues — knows that this is about setting precedent.

The particular legal issue is actually quite narrow. The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.

This is a purely emotional appeal. By Comey’s logic here, FBI agents should be considered above the law, able to pursue any and every avenue possible in the pursuit of information in a case with high stakes. That’s not how our system works. We are governed by the rule of law. Encryption is legal.

Ultimately, that is where Comey and the FBI are going to take this. They’re going to try to make strong encryption illegal.

Monday, 22 February 2016